Tennessee St.-North Carolina Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- As dominant as its frontcourt has been through three games, North Carolina needs better production from beyond the 3-point arc and at the foul line.
If those areas are lacking again Tuesday night, Tennessee State could take advantage of another opponent's shooting woes.
Before heading west for a second time this season, the top-ranked Tar Heels go for a 49th consecutive home win against a non-conference opponent as they continue play in the Las Vegas Invitational with their first matchup against the Tigers.
With Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson averaging a combined 51.3 points and 24.7 rebounds, coach Roy Williams boasts one of the most talented front lines in the nation.
The Tar Heels (3-0), though, are far from a finished product. The team is hitting 28.9 percent (11 for 38) from long distance after going 5 for 19 on Sunday in a 101-75 home-opening victory over Mississippi Valley State.
"Coach always tells us to keep shooting," freshman P.J. Hairston said after hitting 2 of 7 from 3-point range. "If it's a good shot, shoot it. If it's not a good shot, give it to the post and they'll kick it back out for a good shot. We just go along with that."
Williams has also preached better free-throw shooting - making each player shoot 100 during practice last week - but the team finished 16 of 31 from the foul line against the Delta Devils after missing 13 of its first 21 attempts
The Tar Heels are hitting 62.9 percent (56 for 89) so far.
"They make a lot of (free throws) when they start making them, but I'd like for them to do it on game night," Williams said.
Perfect against non-conference opponents since falling to No. 12 Illinois on Nov. 29, 2005, the Tar Heels could very well overcome a poor shooting night. Yet there are no guarantees as Tennessee State (2-2) arrives in Chapel Hill following Sunday's 64-63 upset win at South Carolina.
The Tigers had not defeated a team from a BCS conference since Dec. 30, 2007, at Illinois. Their first win this season was 81-57 over Fisk, an NAIA team, on Wednesday.
"I'm proud of our guys for weathering the storm," said coach John Cooper, whose team nearly blew all of a 22-point lead. "They outplayed us in the second half but even though it got ugly for us we found a way to win."
Tennessee State could win plenty of games in the Ohio Valley Conference if it continues to play solid defense. The Tigers are limiting opponents to 42.0 percent from the field - including 31.1 percent from 3-point range - after the Gamecocks missed 19 of 26 3s and shot 40.0 percent.
The Tar Heels, who opened the season with a 67-55 victory over Michigan State on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego Bay, face South Carolina on Friday night in Las Vegas in the tournament semifinals.
"We might as well just stay (on the West Coast), man," Barnes said. "It'll make our lives so much easier."
Updated November 21, 2011